West Virginia’s first open week of the 2020 football season, which came after its first game of the restructured 2020 schedule, was used as an extension of fall camp, with a great deal of attention paid to conditioning and self-work. This time around, it will be more of a normal off week – at least as normal as anything can be in the COVID era.
A very physical double-overtime game against Baylor, which saw a pair of Mountaineers – offensive lineman Briason Mays and cat safety Sean Mahone – leave the field, combined with high play counts, had WVU head coach Neal Brown cognizant of giving his team recovery time.
“We gave our team off through Monday at noon. It will be a more traditional bye week, and we’ll have less ‘good on good’ work. We treated that last bye week as an extension of fall camp, but this one won’t be that way.
“The Baylor game was a long game,” Brown noted. “We’ve played a lot of plays, almost 180 snaps on offense over last two games, even though we haven’t played well at times. And defensively, we don’t have whole lot of depth.
“We need to take care of our guys this week. We won’t be as physical this week. We’ll have short, concise practices this week and keep our conditioning up. We’ve done well with that so far, and credit that to our strength and conditioning staff.”
Brown, and everyone around the program, continues to be cognizant of COVID-19 and its potential effects on the team. WVU saw starting offensive lineman James Gmiter ruled out of the Baylor game after a positive test prior to the contest.
“We are trying to mitigate it. Since [the game] we have really tried to stay apart,” Brown said of the continuing processes to keep the virus at bay. “We tested [on Sunday]. At the facility we have done a really good job of cleaning, mask wearing, and social distancing anytime we are indoors. We are using our indoor facility for team meals and meetings. We probably won’t get together until Tuesday afternoon.”
While noting that his defense “played at a really high level and flew around” against Baylor, Brown wasn’t buying in to the notion that his team has developed an identity, or an overall proficiency it could hang its hat on. He again noted that while the run game was respectable, the pass game needs a work, and special teams has also a mixed bag.
“I think we might be getting to where we want to be defensively, but not the other two (units),” he said. “We have to make progress during this open week on the offensive side of the ball. We’re playing o.k. on special teams, but not changing the game The field goal block unit was exceptional, and the coverage was OK, but we need to do better on returns.”
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Brown felt that his team’s defensive success against Baylor was pinned to the running game, which wasn’t evident the week prior.
“Oklahoma State had success running the football, and they didn’t drop back and pass it many times,” he analyzed. “So they slowed it down and ran the ball. We played a different box, a light box, against OSU, and didn’t do that against Baylor. Also, we just played better, played more assignment-sound football. Then Baylor had some down and distances where they had to throw the football.
“We played really well defensively last year at Baylor and had a chance to win. We have some kids (on defense) that I knew would bounce back the right way. I felt going in we would play pretty well.”
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Like most every other league coach, Brown isn’t paying much attention to the attack on the Big 12 that is being executed by many media outlets. He sees the inconsistency in play, which he believes is affecting all facets of the game, as yet another COVID-19 effect, but does not see a crumbling league.
“I don’t pay much attention to the perception of the league nationally. I watched a lot of football on Saturday, and to think that everybody doesn’t have issues is incorrect. We had a bunch of penalties, and you make your form and discipline of your team in the offseason. No one had any offseason. Your chemistry isn’t as good, because you weren’t around each other in the offseason. I think our league is really good, and everyone has the chance to beat everyone else.”
Growing more animated, Brown also noted that the lack of preseason had an effect on officiating.
“The officials have an impossible task. They didn’t get to have scrimmages, didn’t get to go to clinics, and are not working in crews.”
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Brown on the suggestion from a Texas writer that managing COVID-19 considerations is getting easier: “Nothing about the last 7-8 months has been easy.”